Life as a Boy Toy in Southern China

June 5, 2009 at 11:25 am (By Amba) (, , , , )

Jason (the commenter), @BXGD, tweeted this remarkable story this morning by an Argentine writer/photographer about life in a genuine matriarchy, the Mosuo of southern China.

[I]t simply doesn’t make sense to the Mosuo women to solve conflicts with violence. Because they are in charge, nobody fights. They don’t know feelings of guilt or vengeance — it is simply shameful to fight. They are ashamed if they do and it even can threaten their social standing.

* * *

They are strong women who give clear orders. When a man hasn’t finished a task he’s been given, he is expected to admit it. He is not scolded or punished, but instead he is treated like a little boy who was not up to the task.

* * *

For the Mosuo, women are simply the more effective and reliable gender. However, they do say that the “really big” decisions — like buying a house or a machine or selling a cow — are made by the men. Men are good for this kind of decision-making as well as physical labor. The official governmental leader of the village, the mayor, is a man. I walked with him through the village — nobody gre[e]ted him or paid him any attention. As a man he doesn’t have any authority.

* * *

[T]hese are very strong women who give the orders and yell at you as if you were deaf. [You wouldn't want this one's eagle eye on you!] But when it comes to seduction, they completely change. The women act shy, look at the floor, sing softly to themselves and blush. And they let the men believe that we are the ones who choose the women and do the conquering. Then you spend a night together. The next morning, the man leaves and the woman goes about her work like before.

* * *

[T]he women decide with whom they want to spend the night. Their living quarters have a main entrance but every adult woman lives in her own small hut. The men live together in a large house. The door of every hut is fitted with a hook and all the men wear hats. When a man visits a woman, he hangs his hat on the hook. That way, everybody knows that this woman has a male visitor. And nobody else knocks on the door. If a woman falls in love, then she receives only the specific man and the man comes only to that woman.

* * *

When she can talk with a man, have sex, and go out, then she is in love. Love is more important for them than partnership. They want to be in love. The one reason to be with another person is love. They aren’t interested in getting married or starting a family with a man. When the love is over, then it’s over. They don’t stay together for the kids or for the money or for anything else.

* * *

One woman wanted to have a child with me. I told her, no, I can’t have a child with you because you live here in China and I live in Argentina. “So?” was the reaction. The children always stay with the mothers. I said that I couldn’t have any children whom I could never see. She just smiled as if I took it too seriously. When they have kids, the children are theirs only — the men don’t play a role.

* * *

Often, the women don’t know which man is responsible for the pregnancy. So the children also don’t know who their biological father is. But for the women it is usually not important because the men barely work and have little control over things of material value.

Most Chinese citizens prefer sons and suffer from their government’s draconian regulation of the birthrate.  But because the Mosuo have ethnic minority status, they are allowed three children.  And because women run the family and handle money, “[a] family without daughters is a catastrophe.”

Look at the picture gallery:  these people look and dress rather like Peruvian Indians.  Their way of life, so utterly alien to us, feels familiar to the nervous system somehow, eh?  (I want my own small hut with a hook on the door!)  Fascinating food for thought.  Now I can say “Read the whole thing” and mean it.

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